Wine

Wine

By
Jorge Fernandez and Rick Wells
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781784880118

For the tastebuds

Wine was always going to be part of the Fernandez & Wells offer, not least because I had a considerable amount of it to sell. Owning a house in rural France, I came to know some winemakers and as a sideline began to import cases to sell to friends and other ‘amateurs’. Additions to the list of ‘Rick’s Wines’ came from Italy and Spain, and enthusiasm for one particular Spanish vineyard resulted in a purchase of 100 cases, a quantity which could not easily be diminished by home consumption should the need arise! Fortunately this wine, Quinta Sardonia from Sardón del Duero, was to become an early favourite of Fernandez & Wells’ customers at Lexington Street.

Wine

If there is a guiding principle concerning the wine at Fernandez & Wells it is that as far as possible it should taste authentic; that’s to say it is representative of the place it is from. It is no coincidence that a large proportion of the wines on the list are organic, as winemakers seeking quality in general work hard at minimal intervention. Likewise, the trend towards so-called ‘natural’ wines is to be encouraged, with some really exciting examples of ‘terroir’ posing a strong argument against the commercial homogeneity of much modern winemaking.

Another related issue is that of alcohol content. There is evidence to suggest that the best organic and biodynamic wines appear to reach maturity at lower potential alcohol levels than those farmed using chemicals. While consumers have grown to expect higher and higher levels of alcohol in wine, with 14 and 15 per cent fairly standard, the preference at Fernandez & Wells is for more restraint. That does not, however, exclude character and wines are chosen as much to complement the food as to be enjoyed on their own.

For Jorge, early experiences of the taste of wine were not entirely flattering. In a day-to-day sense, wine with meals at home was often watered down with La Casera, a popular Spanish brand of soda. On visits to Los Picos mountains and walks with Uncle Daniel, rough red wine came in the form of a ‘leathery tasting squirt’ from la bota, the traditional wine or water vessel slung over the shoulder to keep it cool.

My interest in and love of wine began at the age of about 15 or 16, when an enlightened schoolmaster set up a wine club to educate young palates and pass on his undoubted knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. His actual subject was chemistry, which no doubt lent some academic credibility to an enterprise that would surely not readily slip by the guardians of moral rectitude in today’s schools. But in our eyes this was never just an excuse for an illicit booze up. Rather, it opened up a whole new world with its own vocabulary of tastes and smells as well as exotic names, which were recorded in notebooks at each meeting. Some, like Corton and Montrachet, were held in such awe they could be used tactically as an instant distraction from any difficulties that may have arisen over chemistry homework.

Other inspirations included Oddbins stores, in their earliest incarnation, when the name actually reflected the small parcels of treasures one might find from previously unheard of regions and appellations. A similar ethos pervaded La Vigneronne in South Kensington, where Liz and Mike Berry forged their own path in introducing the wines of Languedoc in particular, via wonderfully eclectic tastings in the cellar of their shop.

Sadly, the time-consuming paperwork attached to importing wine, plus the costs of duty, shipping, storage and delivery etc., put paid to the ideal of continuing to list wines chosen from individual producers and brought in ourselves. The challenge is therefore to find like-minded suppliers from which to taste and select for the Fernandez & Wells list.

For various reasons it was decided to limit the wine selection to Europe. While I am a huge fan of wines from all around the globe, and living here in Britain we are lucky to have an almost unique diversity of wines available, the combination of tradition and innovation on our doorstep means there’s more than enough to excite the palate when choosing the 30 or so wines on the Fernandez & Wells list. Above all, it seems to me that European wines tend to be great food wines and they go particularly well with the simple, quality fare that we aim to serve.

When it comes to matching food and wines, as a starting point something that may seem obvious but is often overlooked is what people drink where the food is produced. Hence, if it’s a goats’ cheese produced in central France, you might look at the local wine that accompanies it, which would almost certainly be a sauvignon blanc, like that of Menetou-Salon, not far from the famous village of Sancerre. In the same vein, a good place to start in finding a suitable match for a well-matured manchego, made from ewe’s milk, might be from where the cheese originated, La Mancha. A fruity, medium-bodied tempranillo with its characteristic dry finish, for example, could be the popular local choice. If some of our amazing Tuscan charcuterie comes from the village of Montalcino, then why go further than the red sangiovese wines of the area, some of which have a great capacity to improve with age? That doesn’t mean to say that a wine from Marcillac in the Lot Valley in south-west France, made from the mansois grape, and which happens to be a superb foil to charcuterie should be overlooked. Choosing a wine to match our wonderful aged jamón ibérico is always an enjoyable task and I find depends a lot on the occasion and season. The jamón is always served at room temperature but on warmer summer days it seems fitting to pair with a chilled glass of bone dry Fino or Manzanilla sherry. In winter months it might feel more appropriate to match the deep, nutty flavours of the acorn-rich fat with a red Rioja or Ribeira del Duero, or if you’re feeling like a bit of sparkle, a glass of cava or Champagne can hit the spot. And just to throw in another option, there’s something wonderful about a simple glass or two of cold beer with a plate of the finest cured meat there is.

But in the end there are no rules, and the fun comes in exploring and tasting as you go along, and this is to be encouraged among staff and customers alike. This is also why we have been keen on having all the wines on the list at Fernandez & Wells available by the glass, switching them on a regular basis, so regulars can make their own minds up.

Grilled octopus

Whenever we have a new item on the menu, the exploration of wine and food are part and parcel of the training we give our staff. A recent example is the grilled octopus – tender juicy tentacles grilled and served with sea salt, a slice of lemon and lightly toasted sourdough bread.

Having been hauled out of the sea off the coast of Galicia in north-western Spain, a Sameirás blanco we have from Ribeiro Galicia would be a likely match to suggest to any customer seeking guidance.

Recipes in this Chapter

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